Eight notable buildings designed by legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and two Chicago works—Oak Park’s Unity Temple and Hyde Park’s Frederick C. Robie House—are among them.
The protected designation—a rarity for 20th-century buildings—places Wright’s work in the company of Taj Mahal and the Pyramids of Giza for their cultural significance and universal value to humanity, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
The eight-building group nomination, officially titled “20th Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright,” represents a broad cross-section of the architect’s style. The two Chicago-area sites are essential examples of Wright’s early Prairie School of design, which paved the way for his later more experimental and modernist creations.
Unity Temple, completed in 1909, is the oldest building of the bunch. Located just outside of Chicago in Oak Park, Illinois, the Unitarian Universalist structure takes visitors on a “path of discovery” which leads from an imposing fortress-like exterior to the earth-toned serenity of a sunken sky-lit sanctuary. Unity Temple was Wright’s first public building to feature exposed concrete, and the designer called the project his “contribution to modern architecture.”
While Unity Temple reflected many themes and motifs from Wright’s Prairie School, Chicago’s Frederick C. Robie House typified the style. Completed in 1910, the Hyde Park residence—now a museum—features the bold horizontal lines, cantilevered eaves, and wrap-around art glass windows inspired by the Midwest’s flat landscapes and earthy materials. Inside, the living room boasts an open floorplan—a feature we take for granted but was nothing short of innovative at the time.
“This UNESCO designation firmly establishes Wright’s place on the international stage of modern architecture,” said Frank Lloyd Wright Trust president and CEO Celeste Adams, in a statement. “We look forward to sharing his great cultural heritage in the Chicago area with a growing international audience.”
Beyond the two Chicago Wright sites, the World Heritage List now includes Taliesin (Spring Green, Wisconsin), Hollyhock House (Los Angeles), Fallingwater (Mill Run, Pennsylvania), the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (Madison, Wisconsin), Taliesin West (Scottsdale, Arizona), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York).
Prior to the addition of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, just 23 of UNESCO’s 1,092 Heritage Sites were located in the United States. No other examples of modern American architecture are included on the list.